This struggling writer is back at the behest of TV’s top actress. 2,010 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I have no idea why Jill Racine’s flunky just asked me if I could come to his boss’s house “right away.” A job? Sex? Right. I’ve seen Jill in passing, she drops off her daughter at pre-school every morning, and all I’ve been able to get out of her have been waves and smiles I’m certain are insincere. Why should I expect more? The day I met her, the kids’ first day, I planned to make her laugh to pave the way for hitting her up to get me in to pitch stories for The Jill Show but ended up sobbing uncontrollably in front of Jill, the other parents, two teachers and a dozen terrified three-year-olds, including my son Ryder. He’d been diagnosed with cerebral palsy just a couple days before and I wasn’t prepared to deal with it. I am now, albeit after ordering a non-existent God to go fuck himself a few thousand times. I don’t really care what this actress wants, I needed to get out of the house. But it’s all I can do to stop myself from plowing into the lovely young couple traversing this crosswalk.
I drive down a long winding driveway to a closed gate, peer up into a security camera and yell at a speaker, “Eric Ornstill.” No answer. “To see Jill,” I add stupidly.
“Come in.” The male voice in the box is different from the one on the phone. She probably has a fucking army working for her.
The gate opens, I steer farther down and around and finally park near a low-water garden that fronts a huge Mediterranean-style house. The distressed ochre finish reminds me of the trip to Pompeii Leslie and I made when we had money and not mental issues and a 3-year-old we love whose body is degenerating. Not another servant but Jill herself pushes open the hand-carved front door and, with a big smile, bounds straight for me.
Her hair’s tied back, her pants are ripped at a thigh, her shirt at a shoulder. The clothes are clean, though, only her gardening gloves are browned with dirt. She shouts, “Thanks so much for coming over,” and Jill Racine gives me a hearty hug! I smell a rich perfume and wonder whether she’s using it to overpower the smell of the alcohol I’ve heard she likes to abuse. She hooks her elbow into mine and leads me into her home. I should give her a chance, whatever it is she wants; she was friendly that day we met, too, not cruel like her reputation says she is.
We walk past a security camera through the doorway. I find myself distracted by my contact with Jill Racine’s celebrated body and only when I’m nearly past it do I notice the huge sun-drenched living room she’s been guiding me through. “Is Daisy home?” I ask.
“Out on a playdate.” She pauses, glancing down. “Usually we hang out Sundays but not today.” Then Jill smiles and says, “We have to get the kids together some time.” That would be fun for Ryder and maybe helpful to me professionally. (Or, considering my current status in the industry, “professionally.”) But did Jill mean it or was she acting? It seems to me she spoke with an authentic graciousness but I really don’t know. Maybe she was sincere when she smiled at me all those times at the pre-school.
She pulls me along in a big hurry to take me somewhere. Chatting, charming, she steers me down a hallway, past a couple more cameras to a staircase. She keeps chatting as she leads me up the stairs, but not a word about why I’m here. And the moment we get halfway, not a word at all, only an ass admired and desired by millions, barely a foot in front of my face. I’m still 100% certain Jill Racine didn’t ask me here for sex, but still — so okay, 99.9%. She’s seducing me for something. I breathe in deeply, too deeply, considering the location of my face — as she’d clearly planned – and steady myself with the banister. Just before we reach the top of the stairway Jill flinches and grabs the banister, too..
She picks up the pace, leads me past a plush master bedroom and another security camera, then a bulging child’s room and another camera, down a hallway that snakes to the left and then right. The hallway goes on and on. Finally, Jill opens a squeaky door and ushers me into a dark room. She shuts the door behind us and flips on the light.
Wood-paneled walls lined with empty floor-to-ceiling bookcases, closed drapes, musty, no security cameras. Completely different from the rest of the house. An ancient easy chair, a small table next to it holding a full glass of water and an open but full box of diet crackers. A huge couch, so big it’s like a previous owner had it hauled in and built the room around it. A white towel’s crammed between two sofa cushions. Jill falls into the sofa. I think it was an effort for her to get up here. “This room is the only place in the whole fucking world I know I have privacy,” she says.
She stands up. Hesitates. After all this, she hesitates. Then edges toward me. The exquisite Jill Racine stands and stares at me as if for a final assessment. She tugs at the fingers of the gardening glove on her left hand. The glove comes off to reveal a handkerchief, blotched reddish brown and crumpled in her palm. The gloves were brown not from dirt but from dried blood. Jill grimaces as she gingerly peels off the handkerchief, then raises her hand as if to swear an oath. Most of her palm is covered by a roundish wound about two inches wide. The circumference is orange-red from mercurochrome that seems frantically applied. At the center, a hole is wet with blood.
“Jesus, what happened?”
“It started this morning.” She pulls off the other glove, drops a second handkerchief to the floor. Same, only worse — this wound is dripping blood. Big drops fall to the hardwood floor, I swear I hear them splat. I start to yank off my shirt to stanch the bleeding but Jill grabs the towel near the couch and jams it into her palm, crying out as she does it. “You know what these are, right?” Jill Racine says. She sticks out her hands like she’s begging change. “You know what these fucking things are?” She’s holding back tears, maybe.
I feel like her life might be at stake. I try to stay calm, take a pause, pull a cracker from the box, pretend to examine it, slip it into my mouth.
“You’re eating? Don’t fucking eat!” Jill slaps the cracker away, and the impact causes a sting that brings tears to my eyes. Now there’s the Jill Racine whom the Hollywood community knows and loves. I touch my cheek and her blood’s on it. At least fucking Jill is in pain, too, squeezing her wrist because squeezing her hand would hurt even worse. “I have bleeding fucking holes in my hands and you’re eating crackers,” she says.
“Jill, are you drunk?”
“Fuck you.” She flops onto the couch.
“Are you seeing a therapist?" If not, I’ve recently met a few.
“Don’t patronize me, you little shit. I’m not some little actress who cuts herself and goes on Dr. Phil so she can be on Dancing With the Fucking Stars.”
“You’re telling me you didn’t cut yourself on purpose?” Of course she cut herself on purpose. Someone said the pure products of America go crazy: Marilyn, Elvis, Jacko, Jill.
“I’m telling you I didn’t cut myself at all, you little Jewish fuck.”
It takes a second for that to register. “Okay,” I say, “you’ve proved you’re the miserable asshole everyone says you are. Now tell me what the fuck you want from me.” Forget sex; saying that to Jill is truly sublime release.
She looks to the floor dramatically, or over-dramatically. “I’m sorry. I know I lash out when I get upset.” Examines her hands and dabs a bleeding palm with the towel. Looks me in the eye earnestly. I tend to be gullible, especially around people who intimidate me, and remind myself again Jill Racine’s not only an actress but an excellent actress who’s probably shitfaced and definitely disturbed. She says, “I think they’re ‘stigmata.’ I Googled ‘bleeding hands.’” Is she fucking serious? “You still know what stigmata are, right?”
“Still” because I’m a little Jewish fuck. Jill takes my brief silence while I’m cooking up an appropriate insult as an admission of ignorance, and says, “Body marks, sores, or sensations of pain supernaturally impressed in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ." I figure she memorized her dialogue from Wikipedia.
I play along. “You’re not Catholic, right? I thought only Catholics get stigmata, or pretend to.”
“Almost only. That’s what Wikipedia says.” Bingo — Jill’s idea of research. “And I’m not pretending.” She moans, “Fuck, it hurts,” and glares at me with what I see as a mixture of defiance and distress.
“So why tell someone you met once in pre-school?”
“I need someone I can trust.”
I manage not to laugh in her face. “Me? What about your husband?”
“He’s a sports agent and a loud drunk. He’ll have Tommy Lasorda making pilgrimages to my fucking bathroom.” Jill’s not just an excellent actor, she’s a funny actor, I bet she occasionally tosses out a useable ad-lib. She flinches as she examines the hole in her left hand. I need to leave, badly.
“Your doctor?” I say.
“I don’t know her that well.”
“What about your therapist?” She’s got to have one.
“He also does the Kardashians. Too risky. Look, I do things by feel, I have a feeling about you.” Dramatic pause. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
Her script has turned cheesy. Still: “Make what worth my while?”
“You can’t get a job, I checked.” I neither confirm nor deny. In fact, I haven’t been able to write at all, much less for money, pulling a Jack Torrance on a supposed comedy pilot even before the shit with Ryder and my wife. “The kind of producer who’s brought onto a show to handle an out-of-control star blowing up the gold mine — I make you one of those. You get to pay the medical bills for your fucked-up kid and have a Number One series on your resume. You keep this” – she thrusts both her palms into my face – “a secret and cover my ass anytime I need you, and I mean anytime. I’ve worked too hard to get here. I will not let this fuck up my show or my life.”
In that order. She strips off the towel, now soaked with her blood, from her right hand. The hole in the middle’s still dripping. “I’m scared,” she says. “Eric–” Jill trains her gaze on me, simultaneously playing seductive and needy. “Help me. You’re a smart Jewish writer: find out how to get rid of them. Please.”